Get Your Butt in Gear.

As a personal trainer, I always walk that fine line with my clients between what is most effective and least painful for my clients. Given that, my single favorite exercise just so happens to be lunges. Lunges can be done in a wide variety of ways and can focus on different muscle groups depending on how you do them. Here are a few thoughts about my favorite exercise, and my clients least favorite.

1. Gain Strength, Stability and Balance

Alternating lunges improve the stability of the trunk, balance out the muscle strength of each individual leg and tighten and tone the rear end. This exercise is one of the best lower body workouts you can do. Not only does it help to strengthen and develop the glutes, but the lunge also works the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Alternating lunges work the same muscles as a stationary lunge, but it works them harder because of the pushing back movement necessary to stand back up with both feet together.

2. Lunging Correctly

Do alternating lunges as part of the lower body strength routine, two to three times a week. Performing this exercise with proper technique, 12 to 15 times on each leg for two to three sets, is optimal. Be sure to rest in between each set to allow the leg muscles to recover. Slow movements, proper breathing and maintaining form from beginning to end is crucial.

3. Ouch!

Be sure not to lunge with feet too close to each other, which will cause the knee to go over the toes and place undue stress on the knee joints, ligaments and tendons that can lead to injury. Make sure the spine is upright, in a neutral position, not rounded forward. A rounded spine position places too much stress on the vertebrae and discs of the upper back. Finally, do not force the heel of the back leg to touch the ground. Doing this will overstretch and damage the Achilles tendon.

4. Make Lunges Even More Challenging

Challenging the body’s abilities is how people get better and stronger. There are several ways to make alternating lunges more difficult, forcing the body to adapt and develop. One way is to do alternating lunges with increasing weight, another is to use the Smith Cage Machine and yet another is to use a bench to step down from when alternating the legs. All of these options will challenge the lower body, creating a greater amount of strength and power in the legs.

5. Focus on Different Muscles

The distance between the two legs in an alternating lunge changes which muscles you emphasize. The greater the stride, the more the focus you put on the gluteus maximus. The smaller the distance between the front leg and the back leg, the greater the emphasis you put on the quadriceps muscles.

Posted by Brian Dokter, Manager, CoachMeFit Grand Rapids (egr@coachmefit.com)

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